Sometimes, the things we spend our money on can’t be quantified in purely financial terms. In our family, a big chunk of our monthly budget goes toward music lessons. Music is an important part of our family’s identity.
When my oldest child turned seven, we bought a keyboard and she signed up for beginner lessons with a neighborhood teacher. Over the past decade, all my children took lessons, and we’ve upgraded from a keyboard to an upright and eventually a grand piano (it’s the most expensive thing we own). Oh, and those relatively thrifty local lessons slowly morphed into the expensive dues I presently pay to a reputable music conservatory.
This beautiful music doesn’t come without many years of financial sacrifice. Lessons, instruments, books, and sheet music — never mind the thousands of hours invested in practicing (and driving to/from lessons). Many of you might be wondering why we’ve paid thousands of dollars for music without a clear return on investment.
Because every once in a while, it all comes together like a beautiful, priceless symphony. (Even if that symphony is your husband and son performing a duet to the theme music from Star Wars!) For our family, the investment of money and time is worth it. As Marcus Buckingham said, “Talent is the multiplier. The more energy and attention you invest in it, the greater the yield.”
What I’m talking about means changing your mindset to view money as a tool you can use to bring you joy. Identify the values you hold dear and then set goals that will help your family achieve and live those values. For example, you might decide that an important family value is the acceptance and understanding of people who are different than you, whether it be a cultural, religious, or even appearance.
Your family may decide that traveling to diverse places matters a lot, so you set a goal to travel together. Now, these trips will cost you money (though we’ve got some tips and tricks to make travel more affordable), but if they bring your family joy and foster a value you hold in high regard, it’s worth it!
A few years ago, our family settled in Spain for the summer. Within the first week, our kids were hanging out in the town’s plaza and playing games with some of the local children. One afternoon, about 30 minutes after we’d arrived, my son ran over to me and proclaimed he’d made a new friend! My son just assumed his new friend was a member of the LDS church (Mormon) like our family. But you won’t be shocked to learn that Mohammed wasn’t Mormon. Instead, he and his family are Sufi Muslims, and over the course of the summer, we spent lots of time with our new friends. It’s not possible to put just a number on this trip and the opportunity to learn about a different religion while nurturing a friendship with an awesome family.
Most of the time, we all work toward similar financial goals —saving for our children’s education, paying off the mortgage, and planning for retirement. So, the next time you decide to spend money with a guaranteed, negative financial return (spending money…likely LOTS of it), make sure what you buy aligns with your family’s values and long-term goals.
To ensure your buying decision will bring the return you seek, ask yourself these two questions.
1. Will this bring my family joy?
I’m not talking about short term joy, like the brief high when you purchase a car…hedonic treadmill anyone? Rather, will this investment (like piano lessons or a trip to Spain) contribute to our end goal? The best investment is in yourself, or another family member, as studies have proven time and time again this brings the greatest return. Studies have also shown that once a certain income level is achieved, happiness levels don’t continue rising alongside the ‘excess’ earnings.
We all know at least one person who seems to have plenty of money, but still seems discontent with life (and if you don’t know anyone, a quick glance at the Hollywood tabloids should do the trick). Yet there are others in life that don’t seem to have much in the way of material possessions, but are genuinely happy. It’s likely their secret has to do with a focus on personal fulfillment as opposed to solely concentrating on financial gain. If your focus becomes so narrow that you can’t see beyond the “scrimp/save/scrimp/save/scrimp/save” pattern and eventually lose sight of the end goal, then what’s it all for anyway?
2. How will you measure impact?
Since this investment likely can’t be quantified in financial terms, how will you measure its success? Creating memories, developing a talent, starting a family tradition? Be sure to define this at the start, as it will help you stay motivated toward reaching your end goal. With our kids’ piano lessons, sometimes I get so frustrated I just want to throw in the towel because the constant nagging required for them to practice (EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.) has taken a few years off my life. I try to stay mindful of our end goal — that the rascals will grow up someday and thank me for nagging them to stick with it and practice.
You, too, likely have something that means a great deal to you, your family, or your community that is also worth the expense. And so you make the hard choices and financial sacrifices and persevere to make the good stuff happen. Most of the time, being frugal and saving money is the right choice for families, but scrimping and saving is only really worth the effort and sacrifice if it serves a purpose. Does your family have an “investment” that can’t be quantified in financial terms? If so, what is it? And how do you make it happen?